Paradigm
Mind is Key

Almost four months into 2012 and I’ve finally found my first candidate for this year’s top 10. The band in question is Sydney, Australia’s Paradigm, who I’d never heard of before this – and chances are, from the meager exposure out there on the metal web, you haven’t either. However, If you’re a fan of progressive metal in any form, you’ll want to fix that now. Mind is Key is their second release, and whatever they’ve already accomplished with their debut, they seem hell-bent on topping it with this hour-plus album of ambition, aggression and phenomenal technical musicianship.

The opening track, “Android,” is also the longest on Mind is Key, at +16 minutes. That’s a lot of space to fill, but these guys have zeroed in on a hybrid, muscular sound, and they build it up smartly over time – though not without a few left-field surprises that take some time to process. It all starts with a bedrock layer of off-time, stuttery Meshuggah-like guitars and spattered, staccato percussion, and then a minute in, switches up to a fierce, spiraling groove that recalls nothing so much as the riffs off of Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake. I’ll be honest, djent rarely holds my attention for long, but this progressive melodic approach to the genre is a significant evolution to my ears.

Before long, another element joins the fray – post-hardcore styled shouts and cleans that trade off with the hoarse barks and roars. At first I found them too youthful and not genuinely aggressive enough, but they lend the band a unique character and I’ve come to like them. The chunky, spiraling and machine-gunned barrage continues throughout much of the first half, but by the song’s midsection, I started to hear two other major influences coming through. The more melodic, complex and brighter passages and solos reminded me strongly of Dream Theater, and the progressive death undulations that erupt towards the end of the song recall late-era Death/Chuck Schuldiner. Not bad company at all.

“Android” is an extremely ambitious track to start the album off with, and probably the track I had to listen to the most to ‘get it.’ The track never flags, but it is a lot to take in for your first taste of the band, especially since there are more focused songs on the album – I’ll get to those in a bit. At the very least, you should be impressed by the band’s skill and their melodic take on Meshuggah-style mathematical rage.

Unfortunately, Paradigm stumbles with the second track, “Atmosphere.” It’s a sodden Gojira clone, with none of that band’s strident, crackling aggression and only one interesting (and, not surprisingly) atmospheric passage. The sludgy mood doesn’t really do the album any favors, especially after such a strong opening.

Things pick up again with track 3, “Portals,” another longish odyssey that leans harder on thrash and metalcore in its opening minutes, and contains a thrilling melodic crescendo one minute in – one that, sadly, is never repeated again in the rest of the track, though it does reach other melodic peaks in its final third. The youthful shouts make a return here as well, though they’re a bit more shrill than before. However, everything else here is so great that I’ve just become accustomed to them.

All in all, a great, listenable track and from here, Mind is Key pretty much cooks – even with the addition of “Visions,” which is sure to be the one that throws most of you. Simply put, it’s the band’s Opeth/Porcupine Tree moment. It’s very well-played, with delicate, lilting clean guitars and folkish, vaguely Appalachian vocals, but given that none of the preceding songs incorporated any of these elements, “Visions” is a bit out of place in the whole. Still, I love the sound here, and I hope the band will be confident enough to weave it into some of their future work.

That leaves the final two tracks, “Wish Us Light” and “Written in Blood,” and as I said above, they’re the most focused pieces on the album – and also the best. “Wish Us Light” opens with a gorgeous, shimmering riff before tearing into propulsive, progressive thrash. The song doesn’t just flow – it hurtles, and that energy carries it all the way up to the triumphant melodic choruses, which reprise the shimmering melody from the opening minutes. This is the track I’ve played the most of off Mind is Key, sometimes restarting it as soon as it’s over. “Written in Blood” has a meaner attitude, starting with a more streamlined attack than probably anything else on the album. Over the course of its 12-minute running time, it grows choppier and more complex, and works in some fantastic and dizzying technical soloing. It’s also more accessible than a challenging behemoth like “Android.”

That brings me to my chief critique of the album – I would have paced and structured it differently. Start off with the two final tracks to grab listeners by the balls right away without any risk of losing them (although the rhapsodic final minutes of “Blood” really do belong at the end of the album), then switch to “Visions” for an interlude, then “Portals,” drop “Atmosphere” (or write something more adventurous and less sludgy), and finally end with “Android” as the big monstrous closer.

Regardless, I can do that myself in iTunes, and besides, the fact that I even care to geek and nitpick like this means I genuinely think there’s something special here. Once again, I love the progressive/melodic djent thing that Paradigm‘s got going on, some of their riffs sound more like Lamb of God used to than that band does now, and as a big Dream Theater fan, any kind of cogent, complex and melodic fireworks are bound to make me pay attention. And most importantly, I think I’ll still be playing Mind is Key throughout the rest of 2012, which is the highest compliment I can pay to any progressive album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
March 30th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Odovacar

    Great write-up and I’ll definitely have to give these guys a listen.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul
  3. Commented by: diggedy1

    Was really, REALLY bored at work and clicked on this review. I don’t normally get into stuff like this, but got a chance to listen to the song “Portals” and I’m digging this band. Cool stuff. The vocals are the biggest hangup; once you start to get past the vocals and realize they’re simply doing some different things in that dept, then you can move on and discover the rest of it. Available for 5.94 mp3 download on Amazon; I think it’ll be well worth it!


  4. Commented by: diggedy1

    update: purchased it and I am very much enjoying the record. Can’t say it’s top 10 or 20 material, but it will at least be worthy of repeat listens throughout the year. AWESOME players!


  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    cool, glad you dig it. and just wait, give it another 10-20 listens :)


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